shining the spotlight on short story collections
Soul Rock Books, 2014
“I had a job passed down from mother to daughter in my family for at least three generations. It was a duty I’ve never failed to complete – not one single day since I was eighteen years old, since I took over my mother’s duty of collecting the feathers.“
This collection is sub-titled Tales from the Other Side, but what Daniela Norris is exploring in her stories is very much about our attempts to make sense of human life, its complexities and challenges. And a major part of this is about articulating the things which happen to us which don’t make sense in so-called normal terms. This is no easy task, because as the ageless narrator says in The Year Spring Turned to Winter:
… the truth is beyond words, it is an entirely different dimension – and if you don’t allow yourself to live that different dimension, you will have to live another life.
Norris’s stories move from tales of fortuitous meetings with strangely-remembered strangers to the vividly-described gathering of feathers in the title story which offers an extraordinary possibility. These stories are, in the main, comforting tales. In the opening story, A Reason to Go On, Olivier is an apparently-successful businessman who finds that life is hollow:
These were no friends. They drank my chance of happiness on the rocks, with a little coloured umbrella.
He is saved from making a second attempt at suicide by a mysterious friend who gives him his reason to go on living, which lies in helping another.
Contacts with those who have died are shown similarly to help those who still live in several of the stories, including The Day of the Dead and Recognition. Norris writes with a sure touch, although I enjoyed best those of her stories which give space for the reader’s imagination to fill them out. This is so in The Train, where an old man, a young man, a boy and an elderly woman meet, fleetingly. Here it is as much what is left unsaid as what we are told that carries the power of the story. The repetition of the words ‘The train is late’, time and again, is very effective, as is the final image of a green kerchief, ‘fluttering in the wind on the far end of the tracks.’
The analogy of train tracks appears in another story, The Right Place, in which the Sarah, the narrator, keeps catching sight of someone, but never actually meeting him:
“It was more like two trains passing at the station, moving parallel to one another, but not on the same tracks.”
He is, as it transpires, there for her when she needs him. He could be described as her guardian angel.
On the whole I found the stories gently enjoyable. There are some amusing notions, such as the unexpected effect of the CERN Big Bang experiment in Clockworks. I also liked the idea of The Café where customers are asked to limit their stay to two hours and ‘those who overstay will not being welcomed back,’ though I was disappointed that the author ended that story with the cliché of the character waking from a dream. Repent was another story with an ending which did not quite work for me, but perhaps that simply reflects a lack of imagination on my part!
The idea that life is cyclical is one that runs through this collection of eleven stories. In another context the collection might be described as speculative fiction, but that would be for a different audience. The people most likely to enjoy these stories are those who have a strong attraction to exploring soul and spirit, and who are already at home with the notions of bridges across time and between worlds.
Read Paulita’s Last Christmas here: HackWriters
About the author: Daniela I. Norris is a former Israeli diplomat. Collecting Feathers is her fourth book. Previous publications include many individual short stories, Crossing Qalandiya, an exchange of ideas across the Israeli/Palestinian divide and On Dragonfly Wings, a skeptic’s journey to mediumship, published by Axis Mundi Books.
About the reviewer: Cath Barton is Literature Editor of Celtic Family Magazine and writes regularly for Wales Arts Review. Her short stories have been published in print and on-line magazines, including Short, Fast, and Deadly, Fractured West and Camroc Press Review.